Ford: 2005 Profit to Be at Lower End of Range

Ford Motor Co. (F) on Wednesday said it expects profit for 2005 to be at the lower end of its previous forecast, soon after rival General Motors Corp. (GM) dramatically slashed its earnings outlook.

For the full year, Ford said it continues to expect earnings in the range of $1.75 to $1.95 per share, excluding special items, but at the lower end of that range.

"The market is not getting easier and we certainly face many challenges," Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair said in a statement. "But we are maintaining our full-year earnings guidance, although we expect to be at the lower end of the range."

The second-largest U.S. automaker said it still expects first-quarter earnings per share to be in the range of 25 cents to 35 cents, excluding special items, and reaffirmed its full-year operating-related cash flow outlook, which is $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion positive.

Ford said it will update its full-year profit outlook on April 20, when it releases its first-quarter financial results.

Wall Street analysts on average expect Ford to post a profit of $1.75 per share for the full year, according to Reuters Estimates. Last year, Ford earned $2.11 a share, or a pretax profit of $5.8 billion, excluding special charges.

Ford is facing many of the same pressures, including continued U.S. market share losses and soaring health-care costs, the same factors that caused GM Wednesday to slash its full-year earnings as much as 80 percent below its prior forecast.

The warning from the world's largest carmaker, which has been steadily losing ground to foreign automakers in its key North American market, spurred Standard & Poor's (search) to caution that it could downgrade GM's debt to "junk" status at any time.

Ford also faces a possible downgrade of its debt rating, which is hovering just above "junk" status.

The profit warning from GM sent its shares down 13 percent to nearly a 13-year low and weighed on the whole industry.

Ford shares fell to near a 12-1/2-year low in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange (search) but they later recovered slightly. The shares were down 2.53 percent, or 31 cents, at 11.92 in afternoon trading.